A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Friday, October 22, 2010

Advanced Scrabb.ly/WordSquared techniques

I recently posted an introduction to Scrabb.ly (now called WordSquared). Since then, I have still been playing, loading up Scrabb.ly from time to time and extending my original chain of words. Here are a few survival tips that I have learned:

When you see other players encroaching, run away! It's pretty easy to just keep forming words on a grid with open space. You can generally find some place in your grid to fit nearly any letter, and in the worst case, you can hit "swap tiles" and start off with a new set of letters. The biggest threat to your survival is being boxed in by other players (but see below about how to deal with that).

Start in a relatively empty part of the board. New players will be randomly placed near recent activity, but you don't really want to be within sight of another player. They might perceive you as a threat and try to box you in. It's better to backtrack from the front a little and find a quiet place where you can start building on your own. That way you can get your bearings and build up a big enough grid that you can always find some place to dump letters.

To be sure that your part of the board is open, keep in mind that...
The map is not the territory. Currently, the little map up in the left hand corner (which can be expanded by clicking on the box with the arrows in it) is not up to date. It seems like it is updated maybe once a day (if that). Note that this is likely to change in the future, as the site is improved. For now, it means that if you want to scope out the competition, you have to drag around the board (which can also be done by dragging on the map) to see where the tiles actually are.... [OK, the map updates more quickly now, at least for a player's own tiles which appear in a chunkier white trail dynamically added as another layer over the main map]. In addition to checking out the big version of the map from time to time, it also helps to keep an eye on the little expanding circles that appear on the map whenever someone plays a word.

It is possible to break out when surrounded! This technique was written up by SPAZIN who is currently third on the leaderboard (for human players). He explained his technique here. (You can tell he is an expert from how concisely he explains it). I thought it would benefit from a bit more description, so I decided to expand on it a little below.

Step 1: Identify a place to break through:

Here I decided that I could build to the left through another player's DEN to make a word like INDENT.

Step 2: Build over in that direction.

Step 3: Plan your approach.

At this point I was close enough to map out a specific path. I imagined hanging an O off of the S to make SO, and then constructing a three-letter word like AGO from that O, and finally a three-letter word like SEA, where the S would form the end of the eventual word INDENTS.

I then had to go off to some other part of my grid to dump a lot of letters before I got the tiles I needed to make INDENTS.

Step 4: Break out.

Note that the DEN tiles now have dark letters, indicating that I now have a partial claim to them. I believe this means that I could build off of any of them, even if none of my original tiles are involved.

Step 5: Run away!

You can now escape the blockade and continuing playing Scrabb.ly as usual.

Have fun!

Further reading:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scrabb.ly/WordSquared - Massively Multiplayer Online Word-formation Game

The biggest word game ever is slowly growing still bigger over at Scrabb.ly (recently renamed "WordSquared"). Created by four programmers over 48 hours for a competition, it's effectively an infinite grid (though currently limited to a giant square with each side being about 200 million tiles long) on which people all over the Internet are simultaneously laying down tiles to build words. You can play it in most recent web browsers at http://wordsquared.com.

For your first move, you can build a word (using a subset of your seven available tiles) off of any available tile on the board. For all subsequent moves, you need to build off of your own words.

Scoring is like in Scrabble. The tiles have values on them, and the grid has been formed by putting a bunch of Scrabble boards together, overlapping the rows and columns on the edges, so that the triple word score squares are shared with the neighboring boards.

Additionally, you have a certain number of available "lives" like in a video game. If you swap out your rack for new letters, you lose a life. If you form a word that overlaps one of those bonus squares in the center (the ones with the star on them), you gain a new life.

Probably my favorite part about this game is exploring the map of the grid. A lot of the overall structure of the interlocking words looks rather organic, but there are a few places on the grid where someone (possibly automated scripts) have constructed long staircases of two-letter words or other regular structures.

One downside is that the site is a bit slow to load, and even just when I switch over to the browser tab that has Scrabb.ly in it, the browser hangs for a while. Every time you enter a word, the game takes several seconds to update and give you your new letters. [This is no longer an issue, as the updated version of the game is much faster.] Also, the large scale map seems to be updated very infrequently (maybe every few hours or once a day), so by exploring the apparent frontier (by switching back from the map view to the zoomed-in grid view), you will find that there may be words several board lengths beyond where the map suggests they will be.

If you stop playing and come back later, your previous position on the map and tiles should be restored, assuming you are using the same web browser... Player identification is done through cookies. "Claiming" your words by adding a username (or Twitter username (preceded by the "@" symbol)), just makes public your position on the high scores list... it does not enable you to set a password or log in from another computer or browser. I would guess that this will be changed in Scrabb.ly 2.0. If you are lost on the board, you can find your words by clicking on them in the word history bar on the right hand side.

The game is still a bit buggy. If it gets confused about what tiles you have or anything else, you can always reload the page in your browser. And I have found that the blanks can never be used to form words in all but the most recent browser versions. If I try to use them, I get prompted to enter what letter they represent, but then the word never gets accepted. There were reports that blanks would be accepted if used as the final letter in a word, but that's not working for me either. Basically, I save up blanks until my rack becomes unusable and then hit the "Swap Tiles" button.

One other caution about this game: It can be kind of addictive.

If you want a lot more Scrabb.ly information, you can watch this YouTube video of one of the Scrabb.ly programmers giving a talk about the game. There are some fairly technical details between about minutes 5 and 10, but most of the rest of the talk is pretty accessible.

The designers have apparently considered making a similar gigantic chess or checkers game (with appropriate rule modifications) or giving some classic 8-bit Atari games the Scrabb.ly treatment. A planned Scrabb.ly 2.0 will have some social features and additional new game mechanics. They might also incorporate play in foreign languages, but still on the same grid as the original game, though possibly starting each language in a different sector of the board, just for the fun of watching what would happen when two language grids collide.

Further reading:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scrabble Flash: An entire game in 5 electronic pieces

Last year, a cool new technology from the MIT Media Lab called "Siftables" was demonstrated in a TED Talk. It consists of little computerized blocks that you can move around with your hands. Touching them together makes them interact, and they can give feedback via their built-in screens and speakers.

At around 2:40 in the TED Talk video (below), the speaker shows how these Siftables can be used to play a word-formation game, referred to as being "like a mash-up of Scrabble and Boggle".

Now this technology has been licensed to Hasbro for a game called Scrabble Flash. There are three games that you can play with these tiles:
  1. Scrabble Flash is similar to Boggle. The tiles are locked into a random set of five letters for 75 seconds, during which time you try to make as many 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words as possible. Whenever you form a new word, the tiles flash at you and make a pleasant reward sound. At the end of the round, the tiles will display the number of words you formed and also the maximum number of words you could have formed.
  2. Scrabble Five-Letter Flash is an anagramming game in which you're just supposed to find one single 5-letter word, after which the tiles will flash and then switch to a different set of five letters.
  3. Scrabble Pass Flash is a multi-player version of Scrabble Five-Letter Flash. If someone fails to find the five-letter word within a set time, they will be knocked out from the game. The speed of the game increases, and the player who avoids elimination wins.

The speed and simplicity of these games reminds me of Bananagrams. It might be even more fun to have one set for each player, so you could play head-to-head. This looks to be easily the most fun new Scrabble-branded game in years.

UPDATE: It is now possible to buy the Siftables blocks shown in the TED Talk. They are sold under the name Sifteo Cubes. They are expensive ($149 for a set of 3), but they are much more colorful, dynamic, and amazing. You can buy "apps" for them, and in principle, program your own games or uses for them.